Will Lionel Messi lead Argentina to glory in his last World Cup?

Photo Credit: AP

Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players to ever grace the game, will this year, head into what will likely be his last World Cup football matches. It’s never quite happened on the biggest stage of all for Messi. So with this year’s tournament in Qatar likely being his swansong, will Lionel Messi flourish in it? As Argentina head to the tournament as one of the front-runners to get their hands on the title, the 35-year-old will be hoping to put the cherry on top of his outstanding career.

First international silverware comes late for Messi

Remarkably there was an extremely long wait for Lionel Messi to get his first piece of major silverware with Argentina. In July 2021, Argentina met their great rivals Brazil in the final of the Copa América. After so many close calls with his country on the international stage, Messi finally got his breakthrough. The Albiceleste won the match 1-0, not only giving Messi his first international title, but it was the first time that Argentina had won anything since 1993.

It was a stunning tournament by Messi. He was involved in three-quarters of the 12 goals that Argentina scored in the entire tournament. Messi himself netted four of them and was handed the award for the Player of the Tournament. He won the Golden Boot as well. Will that success after such a long drought, inspire Argentina on the World Cup stage at Qatar 2022 later this year? With Messi knocking on the door of his 40th birthday come the 2026 World Cup, will this be his final act on the biggest stage of all?

Latest World Cup Odds 2022

Brazil 5/1
France 11/2
England 13/2
Argentina 13/2
Spain 15/2
Germany 9/1

Lionel Messi’s International Debut

Lionel Messi made his first senior appearance for Argentina in 2005. He had played for both the Argentina U20 and briefly the Argentina U23 before making it to the top level. Messi made just six appearances for his country in 2005 and 2006 combined and scored one goal during that spell. It was, however, a World Cup goal, that marked his arrival on the international stage.

2006 World Cup debut

Lionel Messi made his World Cup debut at the 2006 edition of the FIFA tournament. It came in Argentina’s second group stage match against Serbia and Montenegro. Messi got onto the pitch from the substitute’s bench with 15 minutes remaining in the match. Argentina were 3-0 up at the time and cruising.

The first impact that Lionel Messi had in the match, was assisting Argentina’s fourth goal of the game. He then netted his first senior goal for the Albiceleste, scoring the final goal of the match as Argentina routed their opponents 6-0. Messi was rewarded with a place in the starting eleven for Argentina’s final group stage match against the Netherlands. That ended in a 0-0 draw, which was good enough for Argentina to win the group.

The final match that Lionel Messi would play at the 2006 World Cup was in the Round of 16 against Mexico. He was only brought into play as a substitute with six minutes of regular time remaining, and he had what appeared to be a good winning goal, ruled out. Argentina went on to win the match in extra time.

Messi was then left out of the starting line-up for Argentina’s Quarter Final match against Germany. In a tight match, which ended 1-1 after extra time, Argentina manager José Pékerman failed to bring him on. With the Albiceleste being eliminated in a penalty shootout, it was a decision that didn’t go down well back at home.

2010 World Cup

There was a really poor qualification campaign by Argentina to reach the 2010 World Cup. They got there only courtesy of a victory over Uruguay in their final qualification match. This was during a period where the South American giants were really in a decline, but the expectation on Argentina is always high at a World Cup.

Messi had pretty much made himself the Number 10 in Argentina’s World Cup campaign, playing behind two strikers. It was something that he reportedly cooked up with head coach Diego Maradona ahead of the tournament. Messi looked fairly comfortable there, and Argentina started the tournament well. Victories over Nigeria and South Korea put them in a comfortable position in their group.

Messi took Argentina’s captaincy for the first time with their 2-0 success over Greece in their final group stage match. In the Round of 16, Argentina took a comfortable victory over Mexico, beating them 3-1. Messi had assisted Argentina’s highly controversial opener netted from a clear offside position by Carlos Tevez, which stood.

Things then badly fell apart for Argentina in the quarter-finals as they were hammered 4-0 by Germany. Argentina just crumbled in the second half of the fixture, barely laying a glove on the Germans. It was the biggest defeat that the Alibcieste had suffered in a World Cup match since the 1974 edition.

This resulted in one of the first times that Lionel Messi really came under some heavy criticism by his own supporters. He was one of the global superstars of the game and was expected to carry, what was an average-looking Argentine side, to success. The fact that he failed to score in the tournament didn’t help on that front.

Argentina’s Last 5 World Cup Finishes

  • 2002 Group Stage
  • 2006 Quarter Finals
  • 2010 Quarter Finals
  • 2014 Runners-up
  • 2018 Round of 16

2014 World Cup

Lionel Messi then had the weight of Argentine hopes on his shoulders again four years later. That was despite him being out of form following an injury-hit season with La Liga side Barcelona. But he was undeterred, showing up in a determined fashion. It was in 2014 that Messi scored his first ever World Cup goal. He struck Argentina’s second goal in their opening success against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Messi would then score in each of their other group stage matches against Iran and Nigeria.

This was the Messi that Argentina fans wanted to see. He tallied four goals in the three group stage matches, marauding forward and looking like a world beater. Despite not scoring in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Switzerland in the Round of 16, Messi was awarded Man of the Match as he had been in each of their group stage matches.

There was another 1-0 win for Argentina to follow in the Quarter-finals as they edged Belgium thanks to a lone strike by Gonzalo Higuaín. In the semi-finals, they had a gruelling contest with the Netherlands which ended in a 0-0 draw. Messi slotted home Argentina’s first penalty in the shoot-out, which they won 4-2.

So there was Lionel Messi with his chance to get his hands on the greatest prize in football. Argentina and Germany met in the World Cup Final in July 2014. It wasn’t to be, however. Despite kicking off as odds-on favourites, Argentina slipped to a 1-0 defeat. Messi missed chance after chance for Argentina including a breakaway one-on-one with Germany keeper Manuel Neuer. As a small consolation, Messi did win the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament.

2018 World Cup

At the 2010 World Cup, Messi had been part of an average-looking Argentina side. But their 2018 World Cup squad looked far worse. Under head coach Jorge Sampaoli, they didn’t get very far. Their only victory in the group stage was a success against Nigeria in which Messi netted the opening goal of the game. Argentina got themselves out of the group but only as the runners-up.

They then fell at the first hurdle in the knockout stages, as France beat them 4-3 in a thriller. Messi closed out the competition with just one goal. There were thoughts at the time that it was going to be his final World Cup appearance.

Lionel Messi’s World Cup goals

  • 2006 v Serbia and Montenegro
  • 2014 v Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • 2014 v Iran
  • 2014 v Nigeria
  • 2014 v Nigeria
  • 2018 v Nigeria

2022 World Cup – What awaits in Qatar?

But Argentina’s iconic star is heading to the 2022 World Cup. He will be inspired by having helped Argentina end their massive international title drought last year. Remarkably Messi heads to Qatar 2022 with just six World Cup goals scored during his long career. Will he be able to add to that tally? The qualification campaign by the Albiceleste was very strong, finishing behind only Brazil in the table and appearing to be set up very strong in defence.

Since leaving Barcelona to join Ligue 1 giants PSG for the start of the 2021/22 season, things have been a little quiet for Messi. He scored just six goals in 26 league appearances for PSG during that first season. Was it just needing more time to adjust to life in Paris away from Barcelona? But it naturally leads to the question of what more does the 35-year-old have in the tank?

2022 may well be the final time that football fans get to see Messi at work on the biggest stage of all. One benefit for him could be the timing of this year’s World Cup which doesn’t start until late November. It means that he will head into the tournament leading his country with fresher legs than he would normally do.

With the likes of Rodrigo de Paul and Angel di Maria around him, can Messi lead Argentina to glory? Whatever the outcome, the world will be watching Lionel Messi at Qatar 2022. The world will be expecting those brilliant moments of magic from him. Argentina’s previous World Cup titles happened in 1978 and 1986. If Messi could help them land that third one this year before hanging up his boots, the past failures would probably be quickly overlooked by Argentina fans.